HEARING THE CALL OF GOD
To begin our journey into local church leadership, we must establish that successful ministry does not demand professional credentials, a famous pedigree, or a perfect life. Rather, ministry demands the ability to heed the call of God. As a local church leader, success hinges on the ability to hear and obey the voice of God.
As we are invited to follow Christ in the pursuit of a divine calling, we are invited into a life that is far bigger than anything we could find on this earth.
Many times, answering the call of God is as simple as joining a ministry team, inviting a friend to church, or serving in an area of need. It has never been God’s will to save people and then place them on a pew. Rather, it is God’s will that after experiencing salvation, every believer finds their own unique place of service in the kingdom.
We see a great example of a man following the call of God in the person of Abraham.
By faith Abraham, when he was called to go out into a place which he should after receive for an inheritance, obeyed; and he went out, not knowing whither he went. Hebrews 11:8.
Abraham was a man of faith who, when God directed him to do something, obeyed even though he didn’t fully understand all the details of what God was asking. As Bible teacher Charles Dyer declares, “Abraham trusted God enough to know that he would take care of the details. Many times, God will put us repeatedly in the midst of difficult times to show us that he can—and will—meet our needs.”
Even if you lack the necessary experience or training, you must have the courage to get involved. The call of God is never determined by a person’s credentials.
The first glimpse we see of Abraham gives no hint of his later greatness. Abram was one of three born into a pagan family. As we learn in Joshua 24:2, his father worshipped pagan and heathen gods. Ur, the city of his birth, was a center for the worship of the moon-god. Abram married Sarai, but their inability to have children marred the marriage. Nothing in his background set Abraham apart as a remarkable man of faith. The question can be asked, “What set Abraham apart?” It came down to the fact that he obeyed when God called, and he went to where God called him to. No excuses. No hesitation. Though Abraham may not have known his immediate destination, he had supreme confidence in who was guiding him.
And he brought him forth abroad, and said, Look now toward heaven, and tell the stars, if thou be able to number them: and he said unto him, So shall thy seed be. And he believed in the Lord; and he counted it to him for righteousness. Genesis 15:5—6.
God’s plan for Abraham was bigger than he knew. By showing him the stars, the Lord was showing Abraham that his plan was bigger than his own understanding. In time, everything that God promised took place, exactly as he said it would happen.
Through faith also Sara herself received strength to conceive seed, and was delivered of a child when she was past age, because she judged him faithful who had promised. Therefore sprang there even of one… so many as the stars of the sky in multitude, and as the sand which is by the sea shore innumerable. Hebrews 11:11—12.
This brings us to an important part of following the call of God. To follow a call, you must walk by faith. If God has called you and has chosen you for a specific task, he will give you what you need to fulfill his will.
Know therefore that the Lord thy God, he is God, the faithful God, which keepeth covenant and mercy with them that love him and keep his commandments to a thousand generations. Deuteronomy 7:9.
THE DEMANDS OF A CALLING
In the story of the Old Testament, there are many towering spiritual figures that God used to fulfill his will on earth. One of these individuals is the prophet Elijah, a great prophet in the history of Israel. Towards the end of his ministry, God led Elijah to a young farmer named Elisha. In time, Elisha would take his place as prophet and receive his mantle.
In this exchange of power and position between Elijah and Elisha, we are provided with a vivid image that illustrates the demands of ministry. As the story unfolds, Elijah leaves the wilderness after communing with God and comes to the field of Elisha.
So he departed thence, and found Elisha the son of Shaphat, who was plowing with twelve yoke of oxen before him, and he with the twelfth: and Elijah passed by him, and cast his mantle upon him. And he left the oxen, and ran after Elijah, and said, Let me, I pray thee, kiss my father and my mother, and then I will follow thee. And he said unto him, Go back again: for what have I done to thee? And he returned back from him, and took a yoke of oxen, and slew them, and boiled their flesh with the instruments of the oxen, and gave unto the people, and they did eat. Then he arose, and went after Elijah, and ministered unto him. 1 Kings 19:19—21.
After this encounter, Elisha left to follow the elder prophet. However, before leaving he burned his plows and killed his oxen. This was no small undertaking.
The oxen represented Elisha’s means of employment and they were how he put food on his table. Further, they represented his very identity as a farmer and plowman.
A similar image is viewed in the New Testament when the disciples left behind their nets and boats to follow Jesus (Matthew 4:20—22). To many of the disciples, the nets served as the foundation for their careers as fishermen. Along with their boats, the nets were their means of income and financial stability. They brought a sense of control and comfort to their daily lives. Following Jesus, they walked away from what was normal to them.
In the Old Testament example of Elisha and the New Testament example of the disciples, they each turned from what was known, comfortable, and common to pursue a life that was unknown, uncomfortable, and uncommon. In the case of Elisha, the plows symbolized the old life, the old way of living, and past pursuits. When they were burned, Elisha was burning his identity as a farmer and stepping into his identity as a prophet. Likewise, when we follow the Lord we must give him total control.
By placing our lives into the hands of God, we surrender our will to his. Only by doing this will we experience the best that he has for us.
Effective ministry demands that we leave our old life of sin and carnality behind. We must turn from the things of the past and pursue what God has for us in the future. When we “die” to our old lives and our old way of living, Christ is able to clean our hearts and give us new identities.
Verily, verily, I say unto you, Except a corn of wheat fall into the ground and die, it abideth alone: but if it die, it bringeth forth much fruit. He that loveth his life shall lose it; and he that hateth his life in this world shall keep it unto life eternal. If any man serve me, let him follow me; and where I am, there shall also my servant be: if any man serve me, him will my Father honour. John 12:24—26.
THE PRODUCT OF A CALLING
Today, when we think of the twelve disciples, we imagine spiritual giants, preachers of power and strength who were all willing to die for the cause of Christ. However, they were not always this way. In the beginning, when Jesus found them, they were rough fisherman rejected by the religious elite, bitter men with bad tempers, and insecure leaders who, at times, were jealous, envious, and full of pride.
Jesus, with the power of his hands, took these men and shaped them into the preachers, missionaries, and soul winners that we remember them to be.
In the lives of the disciples, we see a marvelous example of what is possible when people choose to truly, sincerely, and deeply follow that Lord.
And Jesus, walking by the sea of Galilee, saw two brethren, Simon called Peter, and Andrew his brother, casting a net into the sea: for they were fishers. And he saith unto them, Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men. Matthew 4:18—19.
In this passage, Jesus calls to Andrew and his brother Peter and beckons them to follow him. In like manner, when we choose to follow the Lord, we step into the transforming power of his hands. As Jesus declared to Andrew and Peter, he is able to make something out of us that we could never be on our own.In a similar setting, Jesus spoke to Peter directly and said, “Thou art Simon the son of Jona: thou shalt be called Cephas, which is by interpretation, a stone” (John 1:42). When Jesus saw Peter, he did not emphasize who he was. Rather, he emphasized who he would be. Jesus saw potential in Peter and was determined to bring that potential to the surface. In his hands, Peter would become a rock in the foundation of the first century church. This is what is possible when we wholeheartedly follow the Lord. He is able to take our imperfections and transform the fabric of our lives so that we are able to accomplish his perfect will in the earth.
When Jesus calls us into the ministry, he looks past our faults, our past, and our common life and he sees what we can be.
The product of a calling is a transformed life that is lived for the glory of God.
 Charles H. Dyer. Character Counts (Chicago: Moody Publishers, 2010), 95.
 Dyer, Character Counts, 96.